Sundance 2019: Hail Satan? – Doing The Lord’s Work

Hail Satan? had me from the opening where the founders of The Satanic temple endorsed Rick Scott. This was such a brilliant satire of political endorsements and they had such showmanship, I would have followed any of their performances. Then a funny thing happened. Their admitted trolling of evangelical Christians became an important protest to protect freedom of religion and separation of church and state. Now they’re doing the lord’s work, as it were, still with the showmanship of brilliant satirists. Penny Lane has made an invigorating film about captivating artists doing inspiring work.

Satanic Temple founders Nicholas Crowe and Malcolm Jarry admit they started this to be trolls. They didn’t even want the attention of appearing on camera so they hired Lucien Greaves to be their spokesperson. Jex Blackmore joins later and runs the Detroit chapter with her own creative spin. The costume for the Rick Scott rally was just a Halloween costume robe and devil horns. It’s absurd but Rick Scott will take what he can get.

Then they start talking about prayer in school. There’s separation of church and state, but also if they’re going to allow prayer why assume it should be Christian prayer? We have freedom of religion in the Constitution so any region should be allowed to pray, even Satanists. The Rick Scott rally was about calling out the media manipulating politics and then it grew. As soon as they go after Fred Phelps, that’s a worthy target. Their same sex ceremony over Phelps’ mother’s grave is the ultimate nonviolent protest to very aggressive homophobia.

The main Satanist projects profiled in Hail Satan? are their attempts to erect a statue of Baphomet on Oklahoma City and Arkansas state grounds. Both states attempt to mount a Ten Commandments monument so If they’re going to ignore separation of church and state, they damn well better respect freedom of religion. And the Satanists are not trying to force their beliefs on anyone. If they remove the Ten Commandments, the Satanic Temple will drop Baphomet. They just can’t stand by and allow one religion to make the rules in America.

They also go after a Phoenix City Council that wants to begin meetings with a Christian invocation. They want to have a Satanic prayer too. It’s very telling that the Satantists remain calm in all their interactions, and the Christian’s are screaming and threatening them, so much so that the Satanists are afraid to even attend the Phoenix meeting.

So you may be on board with the political message of The Satanic Temple, but still have a problem with celebrating Satan. The film gives many good reasons why their protest has to be Satan. Quite simply, Christianity is the dominant and most vocal religion. It’s not enough to have atheists offer an alternative to religion. Atheism is non belief. That’s not a counterpoint to Christianity. Neither are Judaism, Buddhism or any other familiar religion. Those are just different beliefs. Satan is the opposite Christianity and if we have true religious freedom, the opposite of Christianity ought to have a voice.

Plus, the people who joined The Satanic Temple are reclusive introverts who didn’t fit in with traditional mainstream groups. The Satanic Temple gave them a community. I find that telling that this is the place where they find community.

Most of their activities are charity work, all with extraordinary showmanship. Menstratin’ with Satan donates feminine products to shelters, and they sure have a way with words. They do community service cleaning up highway trash… with pitchforks. These are great optics, as well as doing genuine good in the world. They still face stereotypes from the Satanic Panic, all of which has been debunked. No part of Satanism causes bodily harm. Know which religion did molest and rape children? The Catholic Church.

The seven tenants of the Satanic Temple are compassion and empathy, struggle for justice, one’s body is inviolable, freedom of others including the freedom to offend, their beliefs shall conform to science, people are fallible and should rectify their mistakes, and the guiding principle is to inspire. You’d have to admit those are admirable values for any organization. If anyone says, why do they have to call it Satanism then? I’d say, if those values are admirable, what does it matter what they call it? Plus, people have asked Black Lives Matter and Feminism to change their names because people who weren’t black or women felt left out. No matter what you call your movement, the establishment will always find fault with it. Keep speaking your truth and call it what you want.

Hail Satan? also traces how quickly Christianity invaded secularity. “In God We Trust” was only added to money in the ‘50s, and “under God” added to the Pledge of Allegiance the same time. It only took a few generations for people to take for granted it’s always been that way. A lot of the Ten Commandment monuments have a less than sacred origin too. I won’t spoil it.

The overarching point is that people can be completely unwilling to hear more about the movement. They stop at the name Satanist and refuse to ask questions or have conversations, conversations which the Satanists are open to having. This is a huge problem in social discourse. I face it by identifying as liberal. Whatever people call themselves, we owe to them to learn what that entails. If our preconceptions are proven right, we’re no worse off, but maybe we’ll learn something.

If you support the same causes as these Satanists, you’ll be inspired by the creativity with which they protest. I was particularly moved to see them counterprotest pro-lifers at a Planned Parenthood. If you believe life begins at conception, I support your right to protest, but it occurred to me pro choice never goes to the front lines and counterprotests. The Satanic Temple did. Hail Satan? shows many more provocative events that I haven’t even mentioned. I don’t think I’ll be joining The Satanic Temple (or maybe I should. Maybe I’ll meet my wife there) but I will definitely follow and support their activities thanks to Hail Satan?

Written by
Fred Topel also known as Franchise Fred has been an entertainment journalist since 1999 and specializes in writing about film, television and video games. Fred has written for several outlets including About.com, CraveOnline, and Rotten Tomatoes among others. His favorite films include Toy Story 2, The Rock, Face/Off, True Lies, Labyrinth, The Big Hit, Michael Moore's The Big One, and Casablanca. We are very lucky and excited to have Fred as part of the We Live Entertainment team. Follow him on Twitter @FranchiseFred and @FredTopel

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